In the End, It All Comes Down to People
2013 is almost upon us. How are you planning to improve your department or perhaps your entire organization in the new year?
May I suggest a three-step process that, based on my experience, is guaranteed to yield far-reaching, positive results?
It's not multichannel marketing or targeting better or launching DRTV — although all those are worth your consideration.
Oddly enough, I'm not going to write about digital or fundraising ratios or long-term donor value.
I want to talk about people.
Whether your nonprofit organization is large or small, national or local, thriving or struggling, the three steps you can make to dramatically improve are simple:
- Hire smarter.
- Train better.
- Fire faster.
It's simple, but it's not easy.
Perhaps nothing makes a more powerful impact on an organization than hiring the right people. Yet too often we base hiring decisions on our gut. We hire people we feel comfortable with (most likely those most "like us"). We choose merely from résumés we receive rather than actively searching for and recruiting the best person for the job.
Many nonprofits settle for mediocre candidates because "we don't pay enough to get better candidates." How important is it to cure cancer? To feed hungry people? To teach our youth? To save our environment? Important enough to get the right people for the job?
● Paint a picture. Define the ideal candidate for the job, based on the specific responsibilities he or she will have and actions he or she will need to take.
● Proactively recruit the person you are looking for. Can you imagine a major-league sports team waiting for résumés to come in to fill a top coaching position? Sports teams recruit from the best coaches out there. Isn't your mission worth the same effort? Ask yourself where you can get your ideal candidate's attention. LinkedIn? CareerBuilder? Make sure your opening is posted there.
● Hire someone who has already successfully done exactly what you want done. Looking for a major-gifts officer? Don't hire someone because he or she likes people or has experience in sales. Hire someone who has successfully generated major gifts. And don't just take candidates' word for it. Have them give you specific examples of major gifts they successfully secured.
● You get what you pay for. Be willing to pay for top talent. Don't sell people short. Come to think of it, don't sell your organization short either. Remember that their compensation isn't just monetary, but the opportunity to make a significant difference in our world.
● Hire for attitude. Train for skills. Ideally you want both, but when forced to choose, it's almost always easier to train a positive, make-it-happen person than to change the demeanor of a negative person.
● Hire above what you think you need. Use every new hire to upgrade the position and the organization.
● First-class managers hire first-class people. Second-class managers hire third-class people. Don't be afraid to hire someone stronger than you are. It can make you both better.
Seminars and industry education opportunities are important training tools. But I've found the best way to grow employees is one-on-one mentoring tied to the daily performance of their jobs.
● "Take them along." Bring them to meetings with you, and debrief afterward so they understand how you think. Let them know how they're doing and how to do even better.
● Past is prologue. Ask if they've successfully done what you need accomplished. If so, watch them do it again. If they haven't, show them how to do it. Then have them do it with you. Then watch them do it, and give feedback. Then let them do it.
● Use a gaps chart. Make a list of the experiences and skills they need, and identify where they are already proficient and where they have growth opportunities. Consciously seek opportunities to afford them the new experiences they need.
● Always look for ways to catch people doing something right. Then affirm them for it specifically.
● Give constant feedback, and be ready to assess whether you have the right person in the right position.
Some nonprofits tolerate mediocre employees because they're "committed to the cause." They keep people in positions where they are not performing adequately, or they shuffle them from job to job to avoid having to let them go. That is a disservice to your cause, to your employees who are doing good work and even to the underperforming employees.
● Use your 90-day "get out of jail free" pass wisely. Pour yourself into new employees to help them succeed. Monitor them closely. Give plenty of feedback. If they're not succeeding by the end of their 90-day probation period, bite the bullet and let them find positions elsewhere to which they're better suited.
● No secrets. Everyone else knows when an employee isn't pulling his or her weight. And tolerating that poor performance demoralizes co-workers. Use the termination as an opportunity to establish the high standards you have for performance of everyone.
● Tell the truth. Give current and departing employees honest feedback about where they succeeded and where they didn't fit the bill. If they're open to it, help them determine what kind of job might be a better fit and offer to be a reference — understanding that your reference will be entirely honest.
The winning formula? Hire smarter + train better + fire faster = grow stronger. And sleep better.
If you do this right, you'll have the right people in place to launch that multichannel marketing program you've been dreaming of but can never get to!